Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

From the perspective of Bashful the Dwarf


“Don’t you say that again Grumpy. She is the sweetest creature I have ever seen!” said Bashful with a look of indignation that made the remaining six burst out into amused laughter. He turned a shade of red making his already rosy face blush all the more.

“Now, now… don’t make fun of Bashful here, we all know he has a soft corner for her” Doc admonished the rest of them but burst into a chuckle as soon as he had uttered the words making everyone once again roll in laughter.

“Whatever you say, we are not safe with her around. What if her evil step mother comes back? She has already tried killing her once and now that she is with us, I am sure she will try again. And then what about us? What will happen to us?” Grumpy disapproved of her presence and left no stone unturned to make his displeasure known.

“Can we go home now please? Let’s see if she has lived up to her side of the deal and cleaned the house and kept our food ready. If she has, I can go sleep almost immediately” said Sleepy letting out a yawn that was accentuated by a powerful sneeze from Sneezy.

And so they set on their journey down the mountains, towards the tiny cottage nestled in the woods on the banks of a gurgling brook and surrounded by the most beautiful flower garden in the entire country side. 

“Can you smell that?” exclaimed Dopey as they neared the cottage. The flavours of an onion soup engulfed their senses making Happy burst out in laughter.

Snow White had kept her side of the deal; their cottage was spic and span, their beds had been made, the laundry done and the socks mended. If that wasn't enough, bowls of steaming hot onion soup sat waiting on the dining table.

Everything else forgotten, they welcomed her in their midst and from then on considered her as a part of their family. Even Grumpy found his disapproval fading away once he had tasted the delicious soup and found his socks looking as good as new.

A week went by but Snow White still seemed to be in the danger that had brought her to them.

“Don’t ever open the door to anyone till we return” Bashful heard the Doc tell her everyday making him worry about her safety.

“The sweet little thing that she is, it is easy to fool her” he thought, looking at Snow White with ardent admiration.

There had already been two instances when the Evil Queen disguised as a scarf seller and a comb seller had made her open the door. The scarf seller had tried to strangle her while the comb seller had tried to poison her with a poisonous comb. Both the times they had reached in time to revive her but had known if their hunch was right, Snow White’s life was still in danger. The Evil Queen, they thought would do anything to destroy their little beauty.

“Should I stay back? Oh what if something happens to her today? I cannot take it anymore” thought Bashful unable to keep his feelings to himself. He had slowly started to fall in love with his beautiful Snow White.

“Bashful, come with us, we are already getting late” called out Doc, raising a brow. He had begun to realize that the shy and sweet dwarf was falling in love.

“I need to speak to him soon. We cannot fall in love with humans, he needs to understand that” thought Doc as they walked towards the mountains.

Bashful turned around, taking one last look at the cottage and Snow White who stood outside waving out. His heart told him that something dreadfully wrong was about to happen.


“Something is wrong” panicked Bashful as they came down the mountain. He had been fervently waiting to get to the rock from where they could get a glimpse of the cottage. Once they had gotten there he had quickly perched himself up and peered in the direction of the cottage.

“There is no smoke coming out of the chimney, something must have happened to Snow White” he yelled, quickly getting down and scampering towards their house. The rest followed, the absence of smoke had worried them too.

The silence that enveloped the house was a sign that confirmed his greatest worry. Bashful ran into the house, almost tripping over Snow White’s lifeless form.

“Oh, what happened to her? What has the evil mother done to her?” he cried out holding Snow White in a tight hug as he rocked her, tears flowing incessantly down his cheeks.

“Do something, please don’t let anything happen to my Snow White” he yelled, making it more than evident to everyone present what his true feelings for her were. But for once, nobody made fun, they all stood in silence as Doc and Grumpy tried to revive her; but all their efforts were in vain. She had fallen into a magical sleep. Till they did not know the source of her sleep, it would be impossible to revive her.

“Where are you taking her? Why don’t you try some more? We all know magic don’t we? Can’t we do something?” Bashful looked from one to the other with a pleading look. Their hearts went out to him but they knew there was not much they could do.

He watched them place her in a glass coffin. She looked as radiant and beautiful as ever he thought, gazing at his love, her pure white skin, rose coloured lips and hair that seemed to be made from ebony. Every single day he placed a flower on the coffin which was now kept outside in their flower garden. The most mesmerizing flower among all the flowers, he said to the others, sitting by her side everyday  and night despite the snow that had set in, wondering if there was something he could do to wake her up and bring her back into their life. Into his life.

“Will it work if I kissed her?” Bashful charged into the house one day.

“What?” the remaining six called out in unison.

“You know, like what they say about Sleeping Beauty. She was woken up by the Prince who loved her. I love Snow White, maybe my kiss could wake her up too” he said looking happy and eager for the first time in over a week.

“Bash, it’s time we sat and had a little chat” said Doc, gently making Bashful sit next to him and silently motioning the rest to leave them alone.

“As much as we all love Snow White, she is a human and we are dwarfs. We cannot forget that fundamental fact”

For a long time Bashful stayed silent, finally nodding his head as tears fell down onto the floor.
“I know it is not easy-”
“Doc, you have to come out there. There is a young man who has come!” yelled Dopey from outside the window.

Wondering who it could be Doc walked out, leaving Bashful to control the emotions that were now pouring out. In the snow covered garden outside, was a handsome young man, leaning over Snow White and looking at her with a gaze full of love.

“Who are you, young man?” asked Doc, walking over to the Coffin and placing a protective arm over it.
“I am the Prince of the Kingdom that lies to the north of the Woods. I was going down this path on my way for a hunting expedition when I chanced upon this coffin. Who is she? She is so beautiful, I have fallen in love with her” said the young man.

Doc looked at the Prince for a long moment. He seemed to be a good and kindhearted man and his eyes were brimming in love for their Snow White. He couldn't keep her with them forever; her evil step mother would always be a threat for her, alive or sleeping. Thinking of all aspects, Doc took his decision.

“She is Snow White my Lord, the princess of the Kingdom that lies to the south of these woods…” and he narrated the entire tale.

“I shall take her with me and get the best possible medical help to revive her” said the Prince, ordering his Guards to pick the coffin and carry it back to their Kingdom.

Just as the guards picked her up, one of them stumbled, making Snow White lurch and almost fall out of the coffin. With the sudden jerk, a piece of apple flew out of her mouth, waking her up.

Overjoyed, the Prince stepped forwards and helped Snow White out of the coffin while Doc narrated the entire tale to her as the rest of the Dwarfs danced in happiness.

Thanking them all, Snow White hugged and kissed them and asked “Where is Bashful?”

Before anyone could speak, Doc replied “He had to go into the mountains”

“Oh I wish I could have bid him goodbye” she said, looking coyly at the Prince with whom she had fallen in love the moment she had set her eyes on him.

“Why didn't you let her meet Bashful?” Grumpy asked Doc as they waved at the Prince and Snow White who had now mounted his horse.

“He wasn't in a state to meet her. There was no point in letting her know his true feelings” said Doc.
“Will he get over it?” asked Sneezy.

“Oh yes, he surely will. We are dwarfs, we can’t really fall in love with Humans” said Doc.

Engrossed in conversation no one noticed the lone figure that stood at the window watching Snow White fade away into the Woods. Nobody noticed the knife in his right hand slashing his left wrist creating a trail of blood red blots all over the pure white snow on the window sill.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: Mango Chutney


Anthology was not a word that made it to my most used word list earlier. Other than the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, there weren't many that caught my eye either. But in the recent few months, especially since I took to Writing, if there has been one thing that I have been crossing paths with, it has been Anthologies. There are too many of them mushrooming all over; wherever I look there is an Anthology staring back at me; they all seemed the same, not really making me sit up but that was until Mango Chutney came along.

I stopped and gave it a second look. Not only because I had the privilege of knowing a few of the Authors who had contributed to it but because of the fine way in which they had marketed its launch; it had been a lot more enticing and teased the reader into laying their hands on the first copy that was made available. I did just that; so did many others confirming how successful the promotions and campaigns were.

Given the marketing that was done and the teasers that had tormented the reader in me, my expectations were high from this Chutney which proclaimed itself to be an Anthology of tasteful short fiction. It did taste good in bits and pieces but it also had moments that left a sour taste in the mouth.

The Chutney has many ingredients ranging from Romance, Friendship, Birthdays and Sweets to Deceit, Hypocrisy, the Partition, Horror and even Sci Fi and cooking an egg thrown in for good measure. An array of diverse fiction; there were a few stories that stood out for me purely for the tight narration and the ability of the Author to convey what they wanted to, with the right amount of emphasis on both the language as well as the emotion in the tale.

The 37th Milestone by Abhishek Asthana – Writing a Horror story and being able to make a shiver run down the Readers spine is no mean task to achieve. Abhishek does it well with this story especially with the suspense he builds and does not let go off till the very end.

Tainted Red by Aathira Jim – Having been a regular reader of Aathira’s blog, I found this story to be immensely different from her usual style. She did a wonderful job in evoking the emotions and intensity of what her protagonist feels and goes through in a distant land. The depth she gave to her protagonist’s character stayed with me even after I had moved on to the next piece in the series.

The Birthday Boy by Harsha Pattnaik – This piece stood out not only for its narration but also for the fact that it oozed out of the pen of a fourteen year old. I doubt many of us could have written as well as Harsha has at this age. This girl will surely go places.

Someone with Character by Alka Gurha – A simple story but one that holds true even today in India. Having come across similar characters I could relate to Alka’s narrative all the more. Despite the issue she brings out in this tale being an age old one, her narration and flow of the story tugged at the heart for me.

Prem Ki Chashni by Sudhanshu Shekhar Pathak – A very sweet story told with a tightly held narration despite it being a translation from Hindi to English, this story made me smile all throughout. The credit for the effective translation must go to Harsh Sudhanshu as well.

There were a few others which I enjoyed reading; especially Angels and Demons by Purba Ray, The Perfectly Poached Egg by Ramya Maddali, The Girl Who Owned Castles by Giribala Joshi, Vaman by Rohit Gore and On the Other Side by Sakshi Nanda. However if not for giving me a “this is already tried and tested” or "could there have been more to it?" feeling, some of them left me wanting for more emotion rather than just words from the tales. What did stand out for me among these was the narration style that Purba Ray adopted; it was entirely different from the styles the remaining twenty six had used in this Anthology and would have worked really well if it had been more tightly coupled and descriptive. 

These were the moments I truly enjoyed in this book but unfortunately there were times when I felt let down.
Some of the stories that I came across left me wondering not only about the narration but about the stories themselves thus not really making the cut for me. While all were structured in a similar format, I was taken aback by a Moral being added to one of them, it made me look back and forth wondering if all of the twenty seven were meant to have them; somehow it stood out like a sore thumb.

From an editing standpoint, I wish some more effort was put in avoiding simple typographical errors, while I tried ignoring them, they were proving to be quite a hindrance at some places, sometimes even threatening to take away the essence from the stories. Some of the metaphors used across the book also seemed forced and did not relate to the point being made, making me wonder if the story would have been more emphatic with their absence.

Having said that; Mango Chutney is a wonderful platform that brought out talent which otherwise might have taken longer to be discovered. A onetime read, I would recommend this book to those who wish to read tales based in India and want to experience the potential of the Indian Author of tomorrow coming to the surface.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Do we need to have it all?


“Women can’t have it all” said Indra Nooyi and created a rage over the Internet. Both Facebook and Twitter couldn't get enough of it and readers had had enough. Was she right in what she said? Did she make the ever evasive ‘perfect’ sense? Was it time to place her on a pedestal and worship her every morning? Did her interview deserve the kind of attention it received? Was her article such a game changer that it could lead to a sudden wave of the phrase “Can’t women really have it all?”   

“As if we men have it all?” lamented many men. Life doesn't always treat them with a chocolate lasagna or throw petals at their feet, they said. They have it bad too, being stereotyped as the bread winners of the family, being looked down upon if they chose to quit their jobs while their spouses baked the bread and earned it too. Nobody cares for their frustrations, and that frustrates them all the more.

And so the battle ensued, through heated arguments on Facebook threads, re-tweets on Twitter or just seething within.

After all it was a successful CEO being bluntly straightforward about her own views. Maybe it could have been THE article of the year?

I don’t know and here’s the thing, I don’t care.

While we can crib and lament as much as we like about how unfair life is with us, there is a simple fact that we tend to ignore. We had something on hand that decided what we are today. That tiny thing which showed up both sides of the coin, giving us an almost clear picture of what the grass looked like on either side. And we decided to do one thing over the other, simply because of that thing we had in hand, that thing we call CHOICE.

Yes, we had the choice between a domestic life or a career. To decide if we wanted to go the entrepreneurial way, be a freelancer or work for a large organization. Whether we wanted to take on challenging roles that demanded long working hours or settle for a 9-5 job which did not necessarily give growth or visibility. To agree on which spouse should work from home or quit their job to maintain that much coveted balance. To choose to get married or not to, to wear a bindi and jingle the bangles or smoke and resort to a drink. Whatever it is that we did and still do, whatever it is that makes us crib and go cranky over – we had a choice NOT to do it.

No doubt, circumstance is the biggest factor that drives the choices we make. We take the decision to do something only after weighing the circumstances and deciding what is right and what is not – for us. So, if we need to compromise our career for our personal life or vice versa, who is responsible for it if not us? If we have to bear the taunts of family and society for a decision we have taken, who is accountable if not us? If our choices hurt another, who is answerable if not us?

Once we make our choices, they are carved in stone and we are well aware of that. We take those decisions for a reason, doesn't that weigh over everything else?- esp. friends, family and society? If they did not feature while making the choice, why do we let them affect us later on?

Why do we begin to blame our choices and wonder if we cannot have it all?

Wanting to have it all, is a human desire which will never fade away. That is how we have been designed because only then will we strive to perfect the world we live in. And the tool that has been bestowed upon us to get there is Choice.

It is nature’s law that circumstances and needs/wants form a see-saw, one that we have to more often than not choose between, and rarely do we find it in balance. And we make that choice based on what is best for us in that situation. But once we move on into another, we tend to forget that choice we made and it sets us off on an emotion upheaval with only one question on mind “Can’t I have it all?”

No we can’t have it all. Even when we think we have everything we could wish for, there will always be something that we wish we could have had. Not because life is unfair or because it favours one gender over the other or lets society take its place but because that is a law of nature without which we would lose value for what we already have in our lives.

So when the Pepsi CEO says she can’t have it all it is because she valued her career over everything else. When the sole ‘bread winner’ frustrated at work says he can’t have it all it is because he chose to be the financial backbone of his family. When a woman is upset about deciding between choosing time with her children and a challenging role at work, it is because she does not know what she values more. When a girl gets irritated by the questions thrown at her westernized attires or single status it is because she gives more importance to the interference in her life rather than the choice she made.

It is never about what we can or cannot have, it is always about the choices we make and how much we allow the path not taken to affect us. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Necklace - Conclusion

This is part of an ongoing story, read Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3 if you haven't already.

Anand was at his wits end. It was Wednesday night and he still did not see a solution in sight. This was the first time a case had left him confused. Not one suspect seemed to have had reason to steal the necklace. Bela would have anyways got it, why would she steal it? Champa had already ordered a piece, she was surely not the one. Poor Geeta, she would not have been able to wear it anyways, there was no reason for her to take it. Devendra could have staged it to make it look like a theft so that he could gift the piece to Bela; even if that was true how could he prove it? Even if he did, how easy was it going to be to tell the family what had really happened? He had run out of time and was now on the verge of giving up entirely.
Just as he decided to speak to Ajeet about his failure, he heard the door swing open.

“Any luck?” It was Ajeet looking at him hopefully. Devendra stood silently behind him.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but nobody seems to have done this, noone had a motive to do it!” Anand’s voice broke as he spoke the words, he wished he didn’t have to.

“Its ok” said Ajeet. “For me the good news is that none of my family members are guilty. If you had concluded that, it would have been tough to handle. Let us just assume that Devendra misplaced the piece. We will look for it as soon as tomorrow’s function gets over. You did your best and we cant thank you enough for it” saying that, he gave him a hug and continued “Take some rest, tomorrow will be tiring. You leave by afternoon right? I heard you are not staying for the entire function?”

Yes, I have some work back home, I need to leave early” In the midst of all this, Anand had forgotten that Jyoti’s fees were due in two days. He had to be home by nightfall to speak to her.

Devendra thanked him for his help and both brothers walked out of the room. Once again he noticed, Devendra had been unable to look him in the eyes.
The house was full of activity the next day. Guests were coming in alarming numbers; the house had been decorated with marigold and jasmine flowers. A huge cake was placed in the center of the living room, to be cut later in the day by Daadiji. Anand had already packed his suitcase, it hadnt taken him long given the few things he had brought with him. He had hardly got time to spend with Manav thanks to the necklace episode, so he decided to look for him.

“Anand Mama, where are you going? Will you not spend some time with me?” This boy had a way of turning up at the right moment he thought smilingly, turning around and giving him a hug.
“Yes beta, show me that new video game you were talking about” he said, tugging Manav to come along.
“Yes but before that, Ma is calling you, I shall bring my game here and wait” said Manav and left the room with a sprint.

When Anand got back, he found Manav waiting for him in his room. Geeta had called him for some very small thing which she needn’t have bothered, he thought she must have been feeling guilty about the revelations he had got to know during those two days.

After playing for a while with the video game, Anand went around meeting everyone and finally took their leave. Geeta and Manav walked him upto the gate and insisted he take an Auto to the bus stand. Geeta had already got one arranged for him through Bhaanu.

As Anand made his trip back home, he felt disappointment. For the first time in his life he had not been able to solve a case. He was still flummoxed by the incidents of the past two days. He couldn't tell what it was that he had missed. But he was sure there was a missing link to the entire story. He got home, tired and exhausted. Rajni made him some tea and then took his bag to unpack.

Sipping his tea, once again Anand was lost in his thoughts, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together when he heard Rajni scream. Immediately he ran into the bedroom and found her standing next to his suitcase with an envelope in one hand and the necklace in the other!
“What is this Anand? Where did you get it? Did you steal it from Didi’s house? How could you” she was beyond control.

“Relax Rajni, do you really think I could do that? Let me see whats there in the envelope, I think there has been some misunderstanding”. Quickly he tore open the envelope and read the letter that was inside.

Dear Bhaiyya,
We are sorry for the trouble that you were put through in the last two days. Your culprit is none other than your nephew Manav. Let me explain. The day you arrived, Manav was hiding in his hiding place in the living room, as usual observing what was happening around him. He had seen those glances that Bela and Devendra exchanged and knew then that the necklace his Papa had purchased was not for me. Manav has maturity beyond his age, having seen so many things around him, he is able to understand things much better than most fifteen year old's can.

Later in the day when I sent him to get you a set of fresh linens, he overheard the conversation between you and me.Earlier he had also been a witness to the argument I had with Devendra on lending you money. So the poor boy put two and two together and decided to take the necklace and give it to you so that you could fund Jyoti’s education. 

Please do not ever think of returning this. Devendra apologized to me last night, the loss of the necklace had scared him beyond measure that he and Bela would be found out. That’s when he realized how out of line he had been and how this could affect Manav’s life. Manav came to me this morning and confessed what he had done. Though it was wrong, the thought behind it was genuine. I have reprimanded him for this and he has promised never to do it again. On getting to know, I informed Devendra immediately. Thanks to the scare he got, he has now changed to some extent. He felt it was for the best, if the necklace now went away from this house.

Please use it to pay of your debts as well. It should be enough, if it isn't, Devendra has said he will help out. This incident has been a silver lining for all of us. I hope you see it the way I do as well.

Your loving sister

Dazed, Anand handed the letter to Rajni and slumped back on the bed. Just then Jyoti came charging in the room and asked with a desperate look on her face “Papa, were you able to arrange the money for the admission fees?”  

Anand hesitated for a long moment and then said “Yes beta, it has all been arranged, don’t you worry about that”

Finally, he thought. Jyoti would become a doctor. 

Correction: Ajeet and Champa have been referred to as Manav's Chacha and Chachi when in essence they should be referred to as his Tau and Tayi resp.. Despite the realization I have decided to leave the addressal as it was to ensure consistency and not confuse the reader.   

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Necklace - Part 3

This is part of an ongoing story, read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already.  

Wednesday dawned bright and early. Anand was already up and ready by the time everyone came down for breakfast. By then the word had spread and the entire family knew that Anand would be looking into the theft. Every single member of the household except Manav, the twins and Daadiji looked uncomfortable. Each person ate their breakfast silently, while Geeta nervously served them. Anand spent the entire meal observing everyone at the table, but was not at all surprised by the discomfort he saw around him.

He had already visited Devendra and Geeta’s room before breakfast to check the drawer in which the necklace has been kept. The drawer had no lock attached to it. With an embarrassed look on his face, Devendra had said that he had intended to move it to the locker. There were no other signs of a break in. Nothing around the drawer or inside the drawer had been disturbed. Glancing around, Anand had seen things which would not have been visible to others. Anyone else would have seen the room to be normal, but the slight separation of the beds, cupboards that otherwise were positioned together, now spaced apart and the separation of hooks to hang their clothes, told Anand that things were not going fine between Devendra and Geeta. Keeping this knowledge to himself, he had joined the rest for breakfast.

After what seemed like ages, breakfast ended and everyone hurriedly begun to leave.

Belaji” Anand called out, making Bela freeze in her tracks.
“Err… yes, yes Anandji?” Bela turned around and looked at him.
“Do you mind if we speak for a few minutes? Just wanted to check with you on something” and he walked towards his room.
Left with no option, Bela followed him.

She was a beautiful woman with extremely elegant features. Her hair tresses fell unto her waist and today they was adorned with a red rose. Anand took in every minute detail he could of her. She was the only person in the house he had never met before.

“Belaji, sorry to take your time, but I need to know a few things. Who do you think stole the necklace?”

Bela was shocked by the directness in Anand’s question. She hadn't seen it coming. Quickly she gathered herself and said “Anandji, I know you won’t like this, because she is your sister. But I think Geeta has taken it” she looked at him, hoping that she had managed to unnerve him as much as he had her.

But Anand had been expecting this. The line of questioning he had adopted was to help him make the best of the limited time he had. The shock he had seen all over Bela’s face was normal, and so was her response. He knew she would allude to her relationship with Devendra, sooner than later.
“Why do you think that is? Wasn't it meant for her?” He leaned forward and asked.
“Well, you are the detective here, why don’t you find out?” Said Bela with a smug look on her face.

Anand looked at her intently, unable to decipher the look. Finally he shrugged his shoulders and said
“I don’t think I have any further questions, you may leave”

Surprised that she had managed to get away so easily, Bela got up and began to leave.
“Why have you not married till now Belaji?” the question made her turn around and snap “that’s none of your business. Don’t poke your nose into things that don’t matter to you. If Dev-“she gasped at the slip of her tongue and ran away.
It had been a satisfactory meeting as far as Anand was concerned.

“A cup of tea is what I need before I speak to Champaji and Ajeeetji” he thought. Just about to leave the room, he was surprised when Bhaanu barged in.

“Saab, I know you must think I did it. But trust me Saab I did not. You can come to my room and check if you wish. I don’t like this house but I stay on for the sake of Geeta Didi and Daadiji. I would never do anything to hurt them. Saab, please believe me” and she fell at his feet, crying rivers of tears.

“Its ok Bhaanu, don’t you worry, I know you have nothing to do with it” he consoled her till she had quietened down. He knew she had too much at stake with this family; she wouldn't have taken the risk.

“Now will you make me a nice cup of tea? I need to find out who the real thief is” he smiled at her and then followed her to the dining room.
In the dining area, he found Manav. “Mama, can I help you please? This is so exciting, I have always wanted to be a part of your adventures” he said.
“No beta, this involves your family members. I wouldn't want you to get involved” Anand did his best to convince Manav.

Finally Manav gave in but said “I can help you with information. I have been observing people around here, trying to follow in your footsteps to become a detective one day”

Knowing this was the best way to keep Manav away, Anand agreed and asked him to tell him all that he knew. Manav opened up and let out all the secrets he had kept all these years- How Ajeet Chacha manipulated in the business and how Champa Chachi disliked his Ma. That Papa was very rude to Ma and she took care Ekta and Gowri.
There was nothing new in this information, but that Manav had an idea about the darker side of his family troubled Anand. 
“Well, that’s a problem to be tackled on a different day” he thought, telling Manav that he had helped him a lot more than the child could imagine.

Now, he had to approach Champa. He knew she would be in her room; she rarely ventured into the kitchen or to do any household work. The door was open when he got to Ajeet and Champa’s room. The biggest room in the house, he thought his single bedroom flat could fit into it entirely.

“Champa Didi, can I speak to you for a minute?” he asked politely knowing how brash she could be.
“Hey bhagwan! How dare you enter my room when I am alone? Thankfully Ajeet is in the bathroom. Once he is out you can speak to both of us. I will not speak to you alone!” she turned her back before Anand could react.

He didn't have to wait long. A minute or two had passed by, when Ajeet emerged out of the bathroom, all ready to leave for their shop.
“What is it Anand? Have you come to speak about the necklace? Please sit down, ask what you want.” Ajeet seemed more than ready to help him out.

“Just a few questions Ajeetji and then I won’t trouble you. Can you tell me if you have any idea who could have stolen this necklace?” Asked Anand, with his eyes focused on Champa.
“Frankly, I wouldn't know. Champa do you have any clue?” Ajeet looked very confused.

“Me! How would I know? Yes, I did want it, but I had already asked the Jeweler to get another made exactly like it for me. In fact I had chosen the colours for the embellishments to be done as well. You should ask Bhaanu, greed must have taken over her! Or who knows, Geeta would have misplaced it. Dimwit that she is!” scorned Champa forgetting for the moment that Anand was Geeta’s brother.

Knowing that he couldn't get any more information from them, Anand thanked them and excused himself. Moment he was in his room, he called the jeweler to confirm Champa’s story. Yes, she had called and already booked a similar necklace. This piece of news put her and Ajeet in the clear.
The list now narrowed down, Anand went out looking for Devendra, who he found lounging outside in the garden.

“Jijaji, can I speak to you?” he asked, settling himself down in the garden chair next to Devendra.

“Do I have the option of saying no? “He muttered and continued “before you ask anything, let me tell you, I had nothing to do with this. I kept the necklace in the drawer, you see I was meaning to give it to Geeta later in the night” he avoided looking at Anand as he spoke.

“I have nothing else to say"
 Devendra gave him an imploring look and walked back towards the house.

The talk with Devendra had left Anand confused. He sat back mulling over his conversations since morning. Not a single suspect had shown clear motive, yet the necklace had gone missing. Going by Devendra's reluctance to speak to him, it seemed as if he had something to hide. Could he have hidden the necklace on purpose? If he had wanted to give it to Bela, wasn't a theft the perfect cover? He continued sitting in the garden, watching the birds chirp and the bees suckle onto the flowers until he was called for lunch.

Lunch was a quick affair with everyone preferring to have it in their own rooms. It was as if each person wanted to avoid the other. Anand knew that this was the best time to speak to his sister, with no one but the walls to give them company.

“Geeta is there anything you are not telling me?” he asked when she was done clearing the table.
Heaving a sigh, she sat next to him and said “Bhaiyya, you don’t believe that I could have done this do you?”
“No, the necklace was meant for you, why would you steal it?” he asked, nervously looking at her face.
“Well, I haven't done it but the necklace… well it wasn't meant for me now was it? By now, you and I both know who it was meant for. She got up and began to walk away but not before a tear had trickled down and fallen on Anand’s hand.

Suddenly she turned around and asked "Do you really believe it is stolen?” 

Read the conclusion here

Correction: Ajeet and Champa have been referred to as Manav's Chacha and Chachi when in essence they should be referred to as his Tau and Tayi resp.. Despite the realization I have decided to leave the addressal as it was to ensure consistency and not confuse the reader. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Necklace - Part 2

This is part of an ongoing story, you can read Part 1 here.

Anand stood with his battered suitcase in hand at the enormous entrance gate, looking within at the white mansion in front of him. 

“This could put the White House to shame” he thought as he walked along the pathway that led to the front door. 

His limp was hurting him bad; the walk from the bus stop had been long. All the while he was acutely aware that he was probably the only relative who would be ‘walking’ to the house. He had thought quite a bit about accepting the invitation; he knew he wasn't invited out of love; the Bajpais just enjoyed inviting all relatives, especially the ones who were not as well off as them, to show off their riches. There was no love lost between him and his Jijaji but each time he thought of tearing the invitation into two, thoughts of his sister Geeta and nephew Manav had come to mind. He loved Manav like the son he never had. That feeling had also made him arrive two days early. He hadn't met him for over a year now and this he thought would be a good opportunity to see him. With that in mind, he entered the house, making a resolve to be as inconspicuous as he could be till he left two days later.

Preparing himself to meet and greet, he stepped into the living room, only to realize that he needn't have bothered. He knew the other guests would arrive only by Thursday morning so he hadn't been expecting much of a crowd. But the living room was full of activity. Champa, Geeta and Devendra were seated around their family jeweler, examining the jewelry sets he had brought to show them. Geeta was silent while Champa was continuously talking to the jeweler. Ajeet was standing at the door that led to the interiors of the house and was on the phone as usual. Hovering behind them was Bela, Champa’s younger sister. Bhaanu, the household help was scurrying around with lime juice for everyone.

Before anyone noticed him standing at the door staring at them, he thought it would be best to announce his arrival. Just as he decided to speak up he noticed a loving glance being exchanged between Devendra and Bela. Almost losing his balance, but quickly gaining composure, he called out
Namaste! How is everyone!” and walked towards those seated. He could tell from everyone but his sister’s reactions that he was anything but welcome. Remembering his resolve, he went up and greeted everyone.

“Please don’t let me interrupt what you’ll were doing, please continue” he said and sat down, thankfully accepting the glass of lime juice that Bhaanu offered him.

The shopping for the jewelry resumed with the jeweler displaying one exquisite piece after another. While small pieces were picked up here and there, Champa wanted something bigger and surprisingly so did Devendra. Anand could see the shy smile betray his sister's silence beneath her ghunghat. He was glad to see her happy, but he still hadn't forgotten the glance he had seen get exchanged just a while before…

“Oh that is the most beautiful piece I have ever seen!” Champa was suddenly jumping out of her seat. He turned around to see what had caught her attention so much. What he saw was the most beautiful piece of jewelry he had ever seen, a gold necklace studded with diamond and rubies with a peacock shaped pendant at the center. It was a masterpiece.

“How much is that!” he heard Devendra sounding all excited as he looked on at the piece. Bela was also stealing envious looks at the glittering beauty.

“Saheb, it is Rs 50 Lakhs” the jeweler looked uncertainly from Champa to Devendra, not knowing who the buyer would be.

Before Champa could react, Devendra whipped out his wallet and extracted a wad of bills.

“Here, take this as a token payment. The rest of the money will reach your shop by evening” Devendra picked up the jewelry box and walked away.

Champa was fuming to say the least. Ajeet had just finished his call and finally come back to the room. She turned around and pounced

“Where were you? I so wanted that necklace and now Devendra has bought it….for her!”  She spat in Geeta’s direction and walked away.

Just an hour into the house and Anand’s detective mind was already reeling.

“There is so much underlying current among them all…” he thought.
“But I am here to see my nephew, that’s all that matters to me. Let me not bother myself with the rest” once again reminding himself of the resolve he had made he looked around to see where Manav was.

“Where is he?” Anand wondered, now looking out of the window into the rambling garden at the back.
“Anand Mama! When did you arrive???” squealed Manav from behind.

Taken aback, Anand turned around. Wasn't it just a few seconds since he had turned towards the garden? How had Manav appeared so fast?? He wondered. Just as he was about to ask his nephew, Manav ran up and gave him a hug; dispelling all thoughts Anand had in his mind.

“How are you beta? its been so long since we met. How have your studies been going? What have you been doing through the holidays?”
“One question at a time Mama” laughed Manav
I see that nobody has shown you to your room yet. Come, let me take you there” saying that Manav picked up his luggage and led him to the guest room on the ground floor.  

Within minutes Geeta joined them and sent Manav to get fresh linen.
“Bhaiyya, how are you doing? I am sorry I couldn't meet you or show you to your room earlier. I had to attend to a few things, its just that-“
“I understand Geeta, you don’t need to explain.” Anand knew his sister meant well but was too weak to stand up to her husband and his family.
“How are you‘ll doing now? Did you manage to get the funds for Jyoti’s education?” Geeta wanted to know.
“Not yet, but I am trying to work something out” Anand knew that he would only upset his sister if he told her how bad it had been for them off late.
“I am sorry Bhaiyya, I asked him but-“
“Its ok Geeta, I know Devendra has bigger worries, you needn't feel bad about it” Once again, the glance he had seen Devendra and Bela exchange crossed his mind.
“We will have it worked-“Anand stopped in mid-sentence as he saw Manav enter the room with the linen. He signaled Geeta who understood and did not continue the topic further.

Once he had showered and rested, Anand spent his time reading until Manav came over to play Scrabble, their favourite game. It had already grown dark outside and the crickets had begun to chirp in the garden. It was time for dinner. Together they went to the dining room to find everyone seated at the long table. From the looks on everyone’s faces, Anand could tell that they had interrupted a serious conversation.

“So Devendra, Champa tells me you bought the necklace she wanted. Can I see it?” said Ajeet, quickly adding “Don’t worry, I just want to take a look, I wouldn't steal it you know” and then he burst out laughing.

“Yeah sure Bhai Saab, I’ll bring it over” said Devendra nervously and walked out. Everyone had resumed their meal and the familiar clatter of the crockery had filled the air when it was brought to a stand still by the sound of hurrying footsteps.

Devendra burst into the dining room and exclaimed “It’s gone! The necklace is not there! It’s gone!”


The room had gone silent. Anand looked around to see how everyone had taken the news. Devendra looked distraught while Ajeet had a shocked look plastered all over his face. He couldn't tell how Geeta felt; her ghunghat was hanging lower than usual. Bela looked angry while Champa had started wailing. The only person other than the kids who looked normal in the room was Daadiji; having been fast asleep when the jeweler had visited.

“What necklace? What is stolen? Did something happen?” she inquired.
“Something happen? Hey bhagwan, such a beautiful piece is lost, gone forever! Now only if I had bought it, I wouldn't have been careless about it like Geeta!” wailed Champa.

Geeta? But-“Devendra cut himself and looked around to see if anyone had noticed his surprise.

“But Bhabiji-“started Geeta

Oh stop it! How irresponsible you are! You don’t deserve such ornaments. You should only wear those fake pieces they sell on the roads!” And Champa stormed out of the room, closely followed by Ajeet and Bela. Though Anand couldn't help but notice the reluctance in Bela’s step as she walked out.

Geeta burst into tears and ran out of the room. The twins not understanding what was going on were just happy that noone was asking them to finish their food. Quietly they got up and ran out to play. Bhaanu the maid, sensing the tension made Daadiji finish her meal and then helped her back to her room. Ajeet had asked Manav to leave as well.

Anand was wondering whether he should keep silent or speak up when Ajeet entered the room.

“I have quietened Champa for now. But what is all this? If the necklace is really stolen, should we be calling the police?”

“No!” exclaimed Devendra. “Do you realize what that would mean to our reputation? There has been no break in, it is an inside job. Do you understand what that means?”

“What do we do then? How do we find out? It is already Tuesday night, the function is now just about a a day away, relatives will be flocking the house on Thursday. We will not be able to do much then” said Ajeet.

“If it’s ok, can I help?” Anand had finally spoken.

“Oh you are a retired detective aren't you?” said Ajeet before Devendra could even open his mouth.

“Yes. I understand the sensitivity of the matter. If it goes out of this household, it would create unnecessary talk. Instead I could help, since I am anyways here till Thursday” replied Anand.

“Oh yes, why not. That would be great. I hope you can find it. But please be careful when you speak to everyone. We do not want to hurt our own family members” said Ajeet, once again not letting Devendra talk.

They all said good night and retired to their respective rooms. But Anand couldn't sleep. He was excited, feeling the adrenalin rush that he always felt when he took on a case. This would help him oil his rusting skills, he thought. To think, he hadn't looked forward to the trip!

Getting to business almost immediately, he took out his notepad and a pen and started making his notes. First he drew up a list of potential suspects.

“Everyone fits this list though, each and every adult in this house except Daadiji. She was fast asleep and wouldn’t have the strength to wobble towards Devendra’s room to steal this. But other than her Champa, Ajeet, Bela, Bhaanu and Geeta, all have to be included. Yes, even Geeta, though there is no reason for her to steal something that was hers” he thought.

Next against each name, he started writing down the motive. The strongest motive seemed to be with Champa and Ajeet. After all Champa had wanted the necklace and hadn't he seen how badly she treated Geeta? Greed and Jealousy were enough to drive the motive. He thought. And Ajeet? Well, weren't spouses known to support each other? Why would it be any different here? And then what about Bhaanu? She was there, serving lime water to everyone. She had seen the necklace and Devendra disappear with it to his room. How much ever he did not like to stereotype; greed influencing the poor was a common phenomenon. So yes, she was definitely someone he would have to speak to.

Devendra. His reluctance to call the police and later to have him look around had made Anand suspicious. Why was he hesitating so much? Could he have faked this robbery? No! Why would he do that? Unless… the necklace was really not for Geeta… but then who was it for? Bela? That would surely be a motive to fake the theft, thought Anand.

Then he considered Bela. If the look he had seen on her face earlier in the day was anything to go by, jealousy could very well be her motive. What if she thought the necklace was for Geeta? Wouldn't that have driven her mad? He now had five strong suspects, when the thought of Geeta crossed his mind. Could she have known about Bela? No, she was too naive to understand these things. Nevertheless he would have to speak to her. He thought, letting out a yawn.

Speaking of motive, he thought. Didn't he have it too? After all he was in dire need of money right now. A 50 lakh necklace would be the idea solution to all his problems.

Continue to Part 3

Correction: Ajeet and Champa have been referred to as Manav's Chacha and Chachi when in essence they should be referred to as his Tau and Tayi resp.. Despite the realization I have decided to leave the addressal as it was to ensure consistency and not confuse the reader. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Necklace - Part 1


Hidden away in his favourite spot in the alcove that occupied the right most corner of the sprawling living room, Manav had been watching his family for the past one hour.

Ajeet Chacha had been on the phone all the time, yelling at his assistants who were managing the store. 
"He was always doing that, as if the store would shut down if he wasn't there for a day!" thought Manav, his attention now focused on a plump lady who had just seated herself on the large swing that took up most of the left side of the room, the side that faced the garden. She looked around the room, Ajeet Chacha had already left and walked up to the gate, still yelling at his helps. Thinking nobody was around; she quietly dipped her hand into her bodice and pulled out a packet.

“So Champa Chachi has still not given up on Ghutka” he thought.
“How was she going to hide her red stained teeth from the rest? She sure could be slow at times”

He let out a chuckle, making Champa Chachi nervously look around. Quickly, Manav slunk further, hoping fervently that she had not seen him.
He really didn't like Ajeet Chacha and Champa Chachi. They were the ones in their joint family of eight, whom he tried to avoid as much as possible. His parents, Devendra and Geeta, his twin cousins Gowri and Ekta and their adorable Daadi Durgeshwari made up the rest of his Marwari family.  Suddenly he heard a cough and looked up. Daadi was wobbling into the room, towards her rocking chair where she sat post lunch to read the newspaper. The venomous look Champa Chachi threw her way wasn't missed by him. He almost stepped out of his hiding place to help Daadi when Ekta and Gowri came running in and helped settle her into the chair. They were adorable, his little sisters. Always together, laughing, running, playing. Suddenly he saw them look towards where he was hiding, even before he could put his fingers to his lips and beg them to remain silent, his eight year old cousins winked and ran off, almost bumping into his Ma who had just entered the room.

“Maaji, will you have some lime water now?” She asked through the ghunghat that hid her beautiful face.

“Before that, get me a glass of orange juice, don’t you see me sweating away! This summer has been esp. cruel to me and you don’t even notice!” yelled Champa Chachi as she always did. Poor Ma, everyone took their frustrations out on her.

“It’s already Tuesday! Don’t forget, the function preparations need to be completed by tomorrow. The guests will be coming in early on Thursday. You are so lazy! I wonder why we got you into this house”

Daadi looked on silently. With age, she had lost the vigour to reason out with her elder daughter-in-law. Champa Chachi wanted her sister Bela to be married to her brother-in-law, his father. But Daadi had liked his mother’s alliance and the marriage had been fixed. Despite it being years since then, Champa Chachi had not forgotten and never missed a chance to throw jibes at his mother on the topic. That his Ma took care of her children, born after years and years of prayer and penance was little appreciated. After all they were just girls! Through his fifteen year old memory, he failed to recollect a single time when Chachi would have drawn her children close, no. As far as the twins were concerned Ma was their mother.

Manav was disgusted. His family was not at all what it seemed like. It definitely was not spiritual, generous and peace loving, the image they tried to portray in front of their relatives and friends, and the world in general. In fact each of them had their own secrets which nobody knew about, but him. Sitting in his hiding place, he had watched many of those secrets unravel. He had seen the true side of each of his relatives, even his Papa's.

They loved to have the world believe that they were helpful and generous. But they were anything but that. He had seen his Ma literally beg his Papa to help her cousin brother out. She being the only child, Anand had been the elder brother she always wanted. Her brother, his mama Anand Bakshi led a simple life and did not have too many means to earn a living. There was a time when he had been a famous detective, hired even by the police to help solve their cases. But then he had met with an accident that had resulted in a permanent limp. He couldn't take on as many cases any more; especially not those that required outdoor presence. Slowly clients had stopped engaging him and his life had come to a standstill.

Anand Mama was goodhearted and nice but proud. He would never let anyone know how dire his condition had become. There were days when his family did not get two meals a day. His daughter Jyoti was appearing for medical entrance tests but there was no way he would be able to help her complete her education. Ma had got to know about their condition from his wife, Rajni Mami. Wanting to do her bit, she had asked Papa to help them out. After all, ours was a roaring apparels business; we supplied saris and dress material to all stores in the city. She knew we could easily help Anand Mama. But Papa had not budged; he had little regard for Ma’s family. Manav had watched the fight that had ensued between his parents that night from behind the curtain. He had seen his Ma cry all night.

Thinking of his family angered him. But then, the thought of Anand Mama cheered him up. He would be coming that evening. There was a huge celebration planned for the opening of their Mall in town, his father and Chacha had ensured that everyone was invited, however big or small the connection was. This was a moment to show off all their wealth and riches.

Yes, Anand Mama would be coming. His Detective Mama would be coming.

Continue to Part 2

Correction: Ajeet and Champa have been referred to as Manav's Chacha and Chachi when in essence they should be referred to as his Tau and Tayi resp.. Despite the realization I have decided to leave the addressal as it was to ensure consistency and not confuse the reader. 
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